In Defense of the Blair Witch Project

In 1999, I was a skinny, freaked out freshman in high school.  I didn’t have a cell phone, much less my own personal computer, and wanted to see the hell out of The Blair Witch Project.

During the first couple months of school, it was the talk of the cafeteria.  It had premiered a few weeks prior, and I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it.  Even then I recall my fellow 13-14 year old classmates buzzing about how it either sucked or was absolutely terrifying, but it ended up lost in the shuffle after awhile.  Why?

1999 was perhaps one of the best years for movies in history, if not the biggest year for movies in the modern era.  Let’s look at a list of 1999’s hits:

  • Blair Witch Project
  • Fight Club
  • The Matrix
  • American Beauty
  • American Pie
  • Star Wars I:  The Phantom Menace
  • 10 Things I Hate About You
  • The Green Mile
  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • The Mummy
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Office Space
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Girl, Interrupted
  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
  • Any Given Sunday
  • Cruel Intentions
  • The Iron Giant
  • Magnolia
  • She’s All That
  • Dogma
  • The World is Not Enough
  • The Boondock Saints
  • Tarzan
  • Varsity Blues
  • Wild Wild West
  • Being John Malkovich
  • Toy Story 2
  • South Park:  Bigger, Longer, & Uncut
  • Bicentennial Man
  • …and of course Deuce Bigalow:  Male Gigolo

There’s more I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but just looking at that list shows you that 1999 had some smash hits for every genre and paved the way for copycats and sequels in the coming years, in addition to HUGE highly anticipated sequels to the Austin Powers & Toy Story, both of which turned out extremely well.  This was the year of Star Wars, ultimately, and while hindsight tells us it was a major letdown, it didn’t stop the hype machine from spiraling out of control for most of 1998 into 99.

Regardless of that, Blair Witch’s success came in a time when people had so many legitimately great movie options, and audiences bought into the unique “found footage” format and revolutionary marketing to flood theaters in the summer of 1999.
I didn’t end up seeing it until 2000, I think sometime in the summer.  My aunt and uncle had the VHS along with the documentary The Curse of the Blair Witch (I had no idea that both were fake at the time), so I figured I’d watch them finally.
In my grandma’s basement.
In the dark.
At 2AM.
It was legitimately one of the scariest, if not the scariest movie experience I’ve ever had, but it was also fascinating because part of me bought into that this was a real thing while another part hoped, hoped it was fake.  The transitive years of childhood into adulthood left some sliver of imagination and belief in me that the world was still such an unknown and terrifying place full of things I didn’t understand and hadn’t encountered.  A movie about some college kids getting lost in the woods tapped into all of these fears perfectly.
I’ll never forget the last scene, that horrifying mysterious ending, followed by complete silence.  It showed me a lot of things about the horror film genre that I didn’t get at the time:
  1. Documentaries are always scarier than movies.
  2. Your imagination is always scarier than some CG monster or a guy in makeup/a suit.
  3. Low-budget, simple ideas are often more effective in telling a frightening tale.
  4. The thing people are the most afraid of is being randomly chosen to die.
It took many years before any moviemakers tried to do something similar, and to the credit of Paranormal Activity, it was one of the freakiest movies I’ve seen in theaters, even if it did spawn a slew of sequels & wore the format into the ground.
The Blair Witch Project was innovative, unique, and if put in the right context can still hold up to a modern audience.  If you’ve never seen it before, do yourself a favor this Autumn and do the following:
Turn off your cell phone and put away your laptop.  Turn off all the lights.  Disconnect yourself from the world for about 90 minutes.  Don’t get up.  Don’t go to the bathroom.  Turn on The Blair Witch Project anytime after 11pm and watch it from pillar to post, and then let me know what you think.  If you dare.
*spooky ghost noise*

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